By on December 2nd, 2015. This post currently has no responses.

“Bring Back Antitrust ” by David Dayen

I thought readers might be interested in this article “Bring Back Antitrust” by David Dayen in the Fall issue of The American Prospect. The headline paragraph of the article is:

“Despite low inflation and some bargain prices, economic concentration and novel abuses of market power are pervasive in today’s economy—harming consumers, workers, and innovators. We need a new antitrust for a new predatory era.”

The article’s focus is market concentration resulting from mergers and alleged anticompetitive practices.  The article has a decidedly progressive tilt, arguing that the current state of concentration in most industries is harmful for consumers. For example, some may cringe at this statement: “Since the Reagan Justice Department neutered antitrust enforcement, a posture substantially ratified by increasingly conservative courts….”   But the article also cites scholarly studies:

            John Kwoka, an economics professor at Northeastern University, collected retrospective data on 46 closely studied mergers, and found that 38 of them resulted in higher prices, with an overall average increase of 7.29 percent. In cases where the Justice Department imposed some sort of condition for accepting a merger, like divestiture of some product lines or bans on retaliation against rivals, the price increases were even higher, ranging from 7.68 percent to 16.01 percent. By this analysis, consumers don’t benefit at all from merger activity, as market power overwhelms whatever efficiency gains.

Two former colleagues of mine, Allen Grunes and Maurice Stucke were quoted in the article. Despite the merger/concentration focus of the article, I was interviewed by Mr. Dayen about cartel enforcement. I was quoted in the article relating to the Antitrust Division’s closing of four field offices in January 2013, including the Philadelphia Field Office where I was Chief. (They could have just asked me to leave—they didn’t have to close the whole office :-).  “The shuttering of over half of the field offices damaged agency morale. The remaining offices can’t cover the territory,” says Robert Connolly, chief of the field office in Philadelphia when it was closed. “I think there’s a sense that the Antitrust Division is not that interested in local and regional cases.” To me, the bigger picture was also that the regional offices were also incredibly successful in fighting international cartels. For example, the prosecution of international cartels was jumped started with the successful prosecution of the ADM lysine cartel by the [still open] Chicago field office.  The now closed Dallas office prosecuted the vitamins cartel and my office prosecuted the graphite electrodes and related cartels. All of the Division’s criminal enforcement sections, whether in DC or in the field, have had great success prosecuting international cartels. What mattered was not the address of the staff handling the case, but their talent/experience, interest in antitrust enforcement and pride in being a public servant. The Division lost a lot of that “stuff.” But while the field office closings was a setback, obviously the Division marches on with great success.

“Bring Back Antitrust” is full of the history of antitrust enforcement, discussion of important cases, both famous and not so much, and offers a point of view that may get some attention in the upcoming presidential election.

Thanks for reading.

PS.  There is also an opinion piece in the Washington Post (here) that discusses “Bring Back Antitrust.”